Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys - Trouble In Mind (1936) - Video
PUBLISHED:  Jul 04, 2010
Bob Wills was the driving force behind Western Swing, a form of Country & Western that fuses Jazz, Hillbilly, Blues, Big Band Swing, and many more rhythm forms together creating a truly Unique, Diverse and Unforgettable sound. Wills' shrewd mix of horns, fiddles and steel guitar made for a swinging sound that grabbed the public's ear during the mid 1930s and 1940s.
Bob Wills was born into a family of fiddlers on March 6, 1905. His father, John Wills regularly won Texas fiddling competitions. Bob learned how to play fiddle and mandolin from his father. As a young man, Wills performed at house dances, medicine shows and in 1929 made his debut on the radio. With commercial sponsorship, Wills' bands performed on radio in the early 1930s as "Aladdin's Laddies" (for the Aladdin Lamp Co.) and "The Light Crust Doughboys" (for Light Crust Flour). Following a salary dispute, Wills renamed his band the Texas Playboys and relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had a live radio show. This exposure led to a contract with the American Recording Corporation - later absorbed into Columbia Records.
In September 1935, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys recorded their first songs in a makeshift recording studio in an old Dallas Warehouse. From that point on, The Texas Playboys became an overnight sensation and recorded prolifically and made such classics as "Steel Guitar Rag", "Maiden's Prayer", "Take Me Back to Tulsa" and Wills' signature song, "San Antonio Rose". Their biggest hit, was "New Spanish Two Step", which topped the country charts for 16 weeks in 1946. The Texas Playboys always had fine singers like Tommy Duncan and Leon McAuliffe, and Wills punctuated the tunes with jive talking, falsetto asides and cries of "Ah-ha!" He'd call out soloists by name and instrument, good-naturedly goading them on to rollicking solo performances.
In terms of personnel, The Texas Playboys expanded and contracted over the years, according to Wills' desires and the whims of the market. At one point the Texas Playboys were 22 pieces strong, although the band more typically numbered between 9 and 18 members. There were personnel changes and musical shifts as Wills struggled to adapt to the changing face of America in the postwar era. Nonetheless, there was always a solid core of loyal regulars in The Texas Playboys. After leaving Columbia in 1947, Wills continued to record prolifically for such labels as MGM, Decca, Longhorn and Kapp. The group also toured the country and often performed at a Wills-owned dancehall in Sacramento, California.
In 1968, Wills was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A year later, he suffered a debilitating stroke. There were reunions and recording sessions with many of the old Texas Playboys in 1971 and 1973. Wills' final stroke came in his sleep following the first day of a recording session in December 1973 that resulted in the double album "For the Last Time". Confined to a wheelchair, he'd reprised his role as bandleader that day with a group of musicians that included former Texas Playboys. He never regained consciousness and died 18 months later on May 13, 1975.
Wills has been revered by such country-music legends as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, George Straight, and Merle Haggard who made a 1976 remake of Bob's 1941 hit "Cherokee Maiden". The contemporary Western Swing group, Asleep at the Wheel has also cut a pair of tribute albums that have kept Wills' name before the public. Every year, Bob Wills Day is celebrated on the last Saturday in April in Turkey, Texas.
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